Fleet News

Subaru Tribeca

Subaru

Review

LOOKS can be deceptive. Subaru’s Tribeca doesn’t photograph well, but gliding up, over and down San Francisco’s humpbacked streets, where Subaru chose to launch its new SUV, the Tribeca looks distinctive and imposing.

And there’s plenty of time to readjust your aesthetic radar because the big Subaru crossover doesn’t arrive here until the end of next year.

The Tribeca is more than Subaru’s first foray into he premium sports utility market. It also signposts a radical change of design direction for the Japanese carmaker.

Under new creative director and ex-Alfa Romeo design chief Andreas Zapatinas, Subaru is forging ahead with a family look focused on that solitary central grille which is, according to Zapatinas, inspired by the company’s aeronautical heritage.

So we’d better get used to it then. And the Tribeca will not, we’re promised, be reskinned to create a Saab version, in the same way the Impreza was to create the 9-3X for the US.

Peel away all that chunky high-shouldered metal and underneath it all, the seven-seater Tribeca is traditional Subaru. Which means the company’s free-revving flat-six engine driving an all-wheel drivetrain through a five-speed automatic gearbox.

The 2,999cc 24v boxer six delivers 250bhp at 6,600rpm and 219lb-ft of torque at a high-ish 4,200rpm. That’s enough for an 8.5-second sprint to 60mph and a rather modest 125mph top speed.

All this mechanical hardware is borrowed from the current Legacy, albeit sitting on a wheelbase stretched by an additional 80mm for improved cabin accommodation – crucial in a car with three rows of seats.

Rear accommodation is further boosted by ditching the Legacy’s bulky rear suspension set-up in favour of a new double wishbone layout – it is a more compact and lower arrangement which increases boot and rear passenger space.

And there is plenty of room aboard. Although carrying seven is probably best kept to short trips, as a six-seater with three rows of two seats the Subaru excels with plenty of room for legs, heads, hips and elbows.

The cabin architecture is as bold as that of the exterior. The dash sweeps around driver and front passenger in a cosseting double arch and the deeply-cowled instruments and major controls are intelligently laid out.

It also seems to be very well screwed together and all the plastics to hand are slush-moulded with soft textures.

Equipment levels are high, too – expect all UK-bound models to come with climate control, an ear-pounding CD system, half-a-dozen airbags, a raft of electronic safety and stability aids, Xenon headlamps and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

So, another Subaru which Subaru fans will absolutely adore and others will find intriguing, but not interesting enough to buy. Their loss.

There will be three models arriving here next year, with a price range of £30,000 to £35,000. The base model will be a five-seater, the mid-range a standard specification seven seater, followed by a range-topping seven-seater flagship.

The Tribeca will rub its wide shoulders with off-roaders such the BMW X5, Volvo XC90, the new Mercedes-Benz M-class and Land Rover’s Discovery 3.

That’s a talented bunch of adversaries, but given the Tribeca’s key strengths – individuality, versatility and driver engagement – Subaru shouldn’t have too much difficulty in meeting its goal of shifting 1,000 Tribecas in a full year of sales.

Behind the wheel

THE Tribeca is, as you’d expect, a neat and tidy handler. Think of punting about a slightly bigger Legacy and you’ll get the idea – fine body control, a superbly damped and supple ride despite those standard fit 18-inch wheels, and relaxed but direct steering which is full of feel.

Grip levels are particularly high – the Subaru can be thrown into bends with enthusiasm and your passengers will turn green long before the tyres start to scrabble for traction.

The Tribeca is pretty decent off-road, too. The raised ride height and all-wheel grip means it is easily capable of dealing with muddy tracks and icy roads.

The engine is satin smooth and virtually vibration-free, but it needs to be kept between its 4,200rpm torque peak and 7,000rpm redline for the hefty 1,925kg Tribeca to make decent headway – not too difficult when the engine feels like it will rev forever.

A pity then that this free-breathing effervescence is hamstrung by the sluggish automatic gearbox which never feels anything but reluctant and taciturn when asked to drop a gear or two. And sadly, the engine’s new exhaust layout means there’s little of Subaru’s charismatic off-beat throb.

Fuel economy will also be an issue. Even driven sedately, the Tribeca will struggle to touch the high 20s mpg. Expect a realistic figure around 23mpg and no more. And company car drivers will hardly be excited by the high 280g/km CO2 rating.

Driving verdict

THE Tribeca’s key strengths are its ride, handling and revvy engine. There’s also the bonus of decent off-road performance, too. But the gearbox mars an otherwise fine combination.

Engine (cc): 2,999
Max power (bhp/rpm): 250/6,600
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 219/4,200
Max speed (mph): 125
0-62mph (secs): 8.5
Fuel consumption (mpg): 23
CO2 emissions (g/km): 280
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 63/14
On sale: Late 2006. Price (OTR): £30-35,000 (est)

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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